Elegant, all-weather furnishings grace today's backyards

We are furnishing our outdoor rooms with the care and aesthetic qualities once reserved for the living room or parlor. Elegant outdoor lounging has become a pleasing priority, and today's well-designed all-weather materials go hand in hand with style. Here's what's new.

Look for cast-aluminum frames; they are lighter than their wrought-iron counterparts and rust-free. Built to be outside, the powder-coated frames are available in classic and contemporary styles that range from club chairs, ottomans and cocktail tables to poolside, aluminum stackable sling chairs and lounges.

The choice in Sunbrella all-weather fabrics is another style boost. The Grand Haven club chair and ottoman shown here have plump cushions covered in Sunbrella's Essence Onyx fabric.

For the cottage or a plantation-theme setting, the classic wicker look is still with us, but upgraded with a variety of strong vinyl weaves that replace the wood. The best quality promises to be flexible (comfy), colorfast and waterproof.

Wood is still popular. High-end teak is one of the hardest and more durable woods and requires almost no maintenance. The rich, natural beauty of wood complements any era, any location.

DEAR DEBBIE: I have a bentwood rocker that is pretty beat up, and I'd like to refinish it in white to fit in with my bedroom. The seat and back are rattan, and I don't know if the paint will chip off. Is there a special paint or procedure? -- Leslie.

DEAR LESLIE: Follow the same preparation for both prepainted surfaces and the rattan back and seat, which most likely have a sealer finish.

Before painting, sand the wood and rattan lightly to rough up the surface so that paint will adhere. If you have sanded down to raw wood (on the frame or rattan), then apply a wood primer to seal the wood before you paint.

The easiest way to paint rattan is with spray. A brush tends to leave globs of paint in the holes and cracks. Be sure to protect your work area, as spray paint becomes airborne. Spray the front and let dry, then turn over and spray the back. Use thin coats to protect from drips, and apply two coats per side.

DEAR DEBBIE: We are moving into a condo and I want it to be chic and pretty. For the floors, I liked the idea in one of your columns where you described rubbed white, wide wood planks.

Is the white-wood process too difficult for a senior to do? Is it expensive? Thanks so much for your consideration. -- Judy.

DEAR JUDY: You can buy prefinished laminate floor boards with a whitewash look, which is what we used in the condo you mentioned. Check with your local flooring specialist, and he or she will direct you to the correct product. This is your easiest and probably least-expensive option.

If you want to stain or paint a new raw-wood floor, then sand first to open the wood grain. For a whitewashed effect, apply white-wood floor stain. This creates a fresh patina that suits both cottage and modern style. For solid white, apply two coats of white floor paint and then two coats of varnish for extra durability.

Debbie Travis is a columnist for King Features Syndicate. E-mail questions to her at house2home@debbietravis.com.